Responsibility is always ours. It always belongs to the one who makes the decisions; and therefore we are guilty of being a sinful people. But it is the offended party who decides if some punishment is appropriate.
In our human attempts to manipulate we may even imagine that a penalty is proper when it is not.
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By Steve Hall
Most commentaries about the parable of the prodigal son tend to focus on the Father. But put together with the reading from the Prophet, Micah, we are lead in a different direction. It is the son himself we are directed to consider.
The son is not only arrogant and insulting, but also seems to have little comprehension of the value of what he has been given. The text suggests that his spending was not just excessive or extravagant, but that it was profligate. That’s probably why he succeeded to poverty so soon. When he finally came to his senses, his one saving grace was that he blamed no one but himself. Moreover, the anticipated result of his behavior focus on the consequence of, or punishment for what he has done.
“I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’”
In other words, by his behavior he negated his biological status and hoped to become just another servant and that because his father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat.
While our modern use of the word ‘guilt’ would suggest we’re talking about a breach of conduct especially a breach violating law and involving a penalty (e.g. driving 50mph in a 20mph school zone), applying it to the converse can also be accurate. You can, for example, be guilty of thinking ‘outside the box’ and thereby solving a difficult problem. Guilt in this sense takes on the garb of simple responsibility. In other words, a person can be guilty of, i.e. responsible for, a number of things for which no punishment is warranted. But a person can also be guilty of, i.e. responsible for, behavior that violates the law and involves a penalty. So what’s going on in the parable?
The son clearly acknowledged his personal responsibility and we would agree that he alone is responsible for the decisions made. Furthermore, he expected to be punished for his decisions and behavior. But that was not the case.
“While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His father ordered his servants,
'Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast.”
With that in mind we can turn to the words of the Prophet Micah.
“Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt? Who is there like you, who will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt?”
Responsibility is always ours. It always belongs to the one who makes the decisions; and therefore we are guilty of being a sinful people. But it is the offended party who decides if some punishment is appropriate. In our human attempts to manipulate we may even imagine that a penalty is proper when it is not. Parents, governments, product sellers, teachers — they all do this; and, while some penalty may sometimes be appropriate, penalty for the sake of manipulation is not. God has chosen not to to manipulate us.
He removes our guilt and tramples it underfoot just as the Father does for the prodigal son. He does not burden us by adding to the consequences of our mistakes; but has compassion on those who have even temporarily burdened themselves by their decisions to separate from Him.